‘You Can’t Park There, You Are Not Disabled’
To those who judge me for using my disabled parking permit when I seemingly look “healthy and well,” please consider your words.
There are people out there who “call out” others who they think are “abusing the system” and taking up an accessible space when it looks like they don’t need it.
However, they don’t realize that their actions are affecting the mental health of a significant number of people in the disabled community — those who have invisible disabilities.
I’m sure you know what that feels like. If not, you must live in a friendly (or polite) place — in which case, I’m moving there.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my illness and be able to talk about it without bursting into tears. It took me a long time to be convinced a “blue badge,” “disabled permit,” or “handicapped tag” — whatever you want to call it — would help me. And it took me a very long time to come anywhere close to “acceptance.”
I don’t always use it, but my disabled badge has been so helpful when I do. When my legs are weak and my body is exhausted, I cannot walk very far. Getting my head around my limitations at age 29 was tough. I spoke about this on a podcast in my “ENabled Warriors” Facebook group.
But I fear using my badge every time because of snide remarks or the tutting I hear when I get out of my car.
I worry about returning to my car to find a note on the windshield. I’m grateful that I haven’t yet found a piece of paper curled around my wiper, though I’ve seen many posts online with photos of the rude notes that have been left on cars belonging to those with invisible illnesses.
I’ve experienced people shouting at me in car parks on many occasions. That didn’t make me feel good. Imagine a multistory car park with someone shouting and swearing at you, while their voice echoes around the walls. It’s enough to make anyone feel nervous, but when you’re having a bad health day it makes everything worse.
We tend to forget that person’s point of view: They see a normal-looking, “healthy” young person who is not in a wheelchair using a parking space with a picture of a wheelchair on it depicting what they think disability is.
My fellow Multiple Sclerosis News Today columnists have written about their experiences, too — check out Mike Knight’s column here. Ed Tobias has discussed the topic in his column, “The MS Wire.”
I understand why people would be angry. Perhaps they view the scenario like a Hollywood movie featuring me as “the bad guy” and themselves in the role of a reluctant hero looking out for “people who need those spaces.” Theirs is a one-sided assumption, but morally understandable. However, when your face is on the permit, why do they question your right to use it?
If you’re reading this thinking, “Why not just tell them about your illness?” The simple answer is that during those encounters I feel weak and vulnerable. My confidence disappears. I don’t feel strong enough to walk up to a person who is swearing at me to try to reason with them. Instead, I hobble away.
What can we do to change this perception?
Would it make a difference if the words, “Not every disability is visible” was printed on the permit? If children were educated about invisible disabilities at school? Or if public places displayed signs using a variety of images depicting the different types of disability?
I believe that the world would be a more beautiful place to live in if people received more education about MS and other illnesses that can be invisible. But change will not happen unless people like us advocate for those changes.
I once heard someone comment that people only care about MS when they get it themselves or someone close to them has it. I think that is true. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t relate to something unless we’ve experienced it ourselves.
What actions do you think we can take as a community to change this situation for the better? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.
I am 66 and have had MS for 18 years... and use the blue sticker all the time. To be honest, I think the bigger issue here is embedded in your statement:
"If you’re reading this thinking, “Why not just tell them about your illness?” The simple answer is that during those encounters I feel weak and vulnerable. My confidence disappears. I don’t feel strong enough to walk up to a person who is swearing at me to try to reason with them. Instead, I hobble away."
No one in the world minds there own business these days. So, I don't think you'll be able to change society. Indeed, I would rather have the general public err on the side of challenging those parking in a disabled spot because all too frequently people who shouldn't use it do. That's what drives me mad. (Of course, someone got shot over it several months ago.) But I'm happy to stare someone down saying "I have MS, if you're interested." 99% of them are the one's that "hobble away."
If you're not up to defending your own right, maybe just take a cane with you when you don't really need it. That will shut most people up and, hey, you never know when having it turns out to be a lifesaver.
Good luck to all of us.
I guess when you see a person jump out of a car parked in a disabled spot then walk into a Mega Mall or Costco it makes people wonder how disabled they really are. I’m sure if you checked the name on the tag to be accurate you would find that most don’t match. I’ve been on a public funded disability bus and Watch people get taken to the liquor store and lottery tickets and run in and run back out how to disabled are those people? People should be thankful that they can walk it’s exercise, Don’t take it for granted that you will always have it!
Angela de Matos
This scenario has happened to me more than once, and each one has left a little scar and made me question my right to use a disabled parking space. This is not right or fair to someone suffering in silence with MS or other “invisible illnesses”. It is my constant hope that something is done to rectify this.
Norm St. Landau
Whether in my small rural, Maryland community or in the big capital city of DC, I’ve truly never been rebuked for using my HC tag in 20 years.
And perhaps a sad note: I do carry a cane often even when I do not feel I need it. I carry it because I might need it - but certainly because people seem to be nicer.
It's unfortunate that this happens to you, however, as a person who is completely wheelchair bound and MS patient for 40 years, I see abuse constantly. I know people who have a placard, and walk significant distances every day for exercise, yet when they are looking for a parking space they pass up a regular parking spot to use the handicapped spot even thought there are equidistant, or nearby spaces available.
The wide spots are so helpful to people in wheelchairs and walkers. I can relate story after story about abusers so it's not surprising people with a "hidden" disability will get challenged particularly if there are regular spaces close by.
I believe the handicapped placards are given out too liberally.
This happened to me once. I was still able to walk with difficulty, using a cane, at the time. I had an older gentleman yell at me for parking in a handicapped spot. Even though I had the disabled license plate on my vehicle, I felt bad.
Now I use a motorized scooter (my own, paid for out of my pocket) so have my husband park out further. I have gotten dirty looks from people who obviously think I am using the scooter out of laziness and that they somehow paid for that scooter.
It is bad enough having MS and not being able to any longer without the rudeness, insensitivity, and judgment of the general public.
There is a petition on change.org to come up with an orange placard for people with invisible disabilities, almost up to the 25,000 signatures. Started by a woman with MS from Cleveland,Ohio. Sign it and pass it on!!!!
Oh this has happened to me so many times. The first time, just after I had removed my placard, a man blocked me from leaving the parking space because it wasn't hanging, lecturing me angrily. I even tried it myself once, confronting a young woman who just demanded I mind my own business! So, I came to terms with this within myself. Most of those people are trying to help us. I leave the space for someone else when I can. I educate with a smile when people don't understand invisible disabilities. And I use a cane most of the time now, so even though even that gets challenged sometimes, it doesn't happen as much. I choose not to react when it does because that triggers so much more unhappiness and pain, and who needs that! This is just life. I have bigger battles to fight.
Thanks for the message Jessie, I am familiar with this, when I was around 10 years old, my father (who has MS) parked in a disabled parking spot. A police officer even wanted to give him a ticket saying “so, I can see that you are not disabled”. It took quite some convincing to check the validity of the disabled parking card. I myself have been diagnosed with MS in 2014. When I was walking my kid to school in 2017, somebody opened his car window to shout at me: “hey, a little less with the drinking”, commenting on my far from stable walk.
Even though this felt hurtful at first, I changed my mind about it.
When you change you try to see it from the other’s point of view, you might actually be thankful that people keep an eye out on those disabled parking spots. Replying: “Thanks for looking out, I have MS so I really need this spot, but you are right, many people wrongfully occupy the spot, making it very hard for me to find a place to park.”
As for the guy calling me a drunk, I do get it. I mean, I looked like a drunk holding hands with a child. I guess in a healthy person’s reference frame this looks troublesome. I smiled and explained the situation. I no longer have the feeling that I have to explain myself, but that I help the other person to see that nothing is wrong.
Sure there are ‘stupid’ and ‘rigid minded’ people out there, that just stick to shouting and then going away. Too bad for them, don’t let them ruin your day. Feel strong about who you are, what you can and can’t do. Hopefully in future this won’t bother you as much.
Regrettably, I don’t have an answer on how to best to protect those with invisible disabilities rightly utilizing a disabled parking placard. That said, my personal experience is that approximately 8 times out of 10 the disabled parking placard is being misused by visibly abled persons hopping (literally) out of the car to run (again, literally) into Starbucks, the cleaners, a drugstore or similar quick stop location. Add to that those under the darkness and anonymity of night and large movie theater parking lots who figure no one will notice (or just don’t care anyway). I am sorry for the invisible disability person who is victimized… But I am also thankful for those persons willing to recognize and stand up to persons clearly abusing the so-called “privilege“.
Here’s a reply my husband uses: “I’ll trade with you, you take my MS and you can have this parking spot.” Shuts people up pretty well. Keep smiling!!
Just say thank you for standing up for the disabled like myself. It is nice to see a concerned citizen trying to help the disabled community. That should shut them up
I just say why? Do need you need the spot? Do want to hear about my illness? How much time do you have? We can about talked my MRIs and doctors visits, my drugs and infusions. In fact I’m going inside to buy some depends because I can’t control my bladder. I was a wise a$$ before I was diagnosed. I can’t blame ms for that.
Hi, I was diagnosed in 2009 I was 21. My experience to this is by far not right at all. It all happened at walmart me and my boyfriend when on a midnight shopping. A cop saw us on a handicap parking space gave us a ticket. He had to go to court 3 months fighting the ticket cause we were not gonna pay $4,200. And yes we ended up winning cause is not like we were lying.
Well, I have an inflammatory arthritis ( lower back and right shoulder )
The day when I walk a little extra .... next day I feel and walk like 100 years old lady ? but who look at me .... They think I don’t need that ..... we can’t judge people!